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Israel lifts Gaza export ban to avert holiday 'crisis'

Oct. 5, 2011 9:48 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 7, 2011 3:53 P.M.)
TEL AVIV, Israel (Ma'an) -- Israeli officials will temporarily lift a ban on agricultural exports from the Gaza Strip to allow the entry of palm fronds used to mark a Jewish holiday, a newspaper report said Wednesday.

Maariv, a Hebrew-language Israeli daily, said the defense ministry agreed to alllow 100,000 lulavs to enter Israel from Gaza on a "one-time basis" ahead of Sukkot, which starts next week.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak authorized importing the lulavs from Gaza to avert a "crisis" caused by Egypt's refusal this year to approve the sale of the fronds, Maariv reported.

The palm fronds are used for religious rituals during Sukkot. According to Maariv, merchants believe that as a result of Egypt's refusal to approve sales this year, the cost of lulavs will triple.

It was not clear why the fronds would represent any less of a security concern than other agricultural exports, which have been banned from leaving Gaza since 2007 with a few exceptions.

"What a revealing double standard," said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.

"When Israel's theocratic echelons need agricultural produce for a Jewish religious celebration, imports from Gaza are authorized, yet since June 2007 this has apparently been an insurmountable security threat.

"Now the truth is laid bare," Gunness told Ma'an.

"We have always said that the virtual ban on exports from Gaza is a collective punishment of 1.5 million people which the International Committee of the Red Cross has said is illegal under international law".

Israel's defense ministry did not respond to inquiries from Ma'an, but a spokesperson told Maariv the requests "were examined by the authorized figures in the security establishment and were approved on a one-time basis, but the possibility of executing them in practice is still being looked into."

Egypt has not elaborated on why it is banning exports of the fronds this year. Israel typically imports about 700,000 of them annually, according to Haaretz, another Israeli daily.
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